What Are They All About? New York Red Bull
Done and dusted. This past Wednesday the Chicago Fire were ousted from the US Open Cup by the Philadelphia Union. After a strong first half, the Fire completely lost the plot and gave up three tallies after the sixtieth minute to lose 3-0 at Talen Energy Stadium. The loss marked their fifth semi-final loss in the last six years and effectively ended any chance that the Fire had of chalking this season up as a success. Although there are still ten matches left in the season and the Fire are just six points out from a playoff spot, they have arguably the toughest remaining stretch of games among the playoff contenders, the teams ahead of them have multiple matches in hand, and they have shown very little on the field to suggest that they can overcome the gap. The search for a miracle continues this Saturday against New York Red Bull (7:30 CT at Toyota Park).
Saturday’s fixture will mark the first time that former Chicago Fire player Chris Armas comes to the Windy City as a head coach, having taken over for Jesse Marsch after his departure for Red Bull Leipzig. While the change came with some uncertainty, Armas’ continuation of Marsch’s system has turned out to be flawless with the Red Bulls winning four of the five matches since he took the reins. Although they have virtually guaranteed themselves a playoff spot with twelve matches remaining, there is still the Supporters Shield to play for and New York is just four points behind Atlanta in that race with two matches in hand. A win over Chicago would certainly emphasize that this is now truly Armas’ team while also inching them closer to a third trophy in six seasons. Will the Fire play the role of spoiler? Let’s see what’s in store for the Men in Red.
New York Red Bull Form Guide (all competitions): W-L-W-W-W
Previous Result: A 2-1 home victory over LAFC.
Formation: 4-2-3-1; Robles; Murillo, Parker, Long, Lawrence; Davis, Adams; Rzatkowski, Kaku, Royer; Wright-Phillips
Strengths: A team does not have its hat in the ring for the Supporters Shield by accident. New York is a well-oiled club and it comes through from the academy up to the first team and soccer operations staff. Let’s see where they will succeed on Saturday.
All Your Shots Belong to Me: While we like to switch up our coverage of specific strengths each time we cover a team, Luis Robles continually forces us to mention him in the column. Seven shut outs, a 74% save ratio (second highest among goalkeepers who have played more than fourteen matches this season), two saved pks on three attempts, and strong organization of a rather young back line put Robles in the conversation for goalkeeper of the year yet again. Given that Chicago hasn’t exactly had its shooting boots on recently, they won’t be happy to see Robles on Saturday.
Dynamic Duo: When Bradley-Wright Phillips scored his one-hundredth MLS goal two weeks ago against DC, no one was surprised. Also unsurprising, that the assist was provided by Kaku. BWP has fourteen goals on the season and Kaku has fourteen assists (nine of which have been lay offs for Wright-Phillips). Their partnership has blossomed from the moment that the Argentine landed in the Big Apple, taking just twelve matches to hit the ten-assist mark, a club record. The partnership also showcases the Red Bulls ability to utilize multiple mechanisms successfully. Typically known for their strong academy and the ability to integrate youth players into MLS quickly, the signature of BWP after a trial as a free agent in 2013 and the arrival of Kaku under the new “Young DP” designation rewrite the narrative of a uni-linear approach to forming their roster. Both players will certainly have a part to play on Saturday.
Completely Depleted: The air currently surrounding the Chicago Fire is toxic. Relations with the fans are at an all-time low (the Front Office handed down a new set of individual bans on season ticket holders and a blanket ban on organized support for Saturday’s match), a club record losing streak continues to grow, and player were released following the USOC disappointment on Wednesday. In the wake of the Fire’s Open Cup loss the Fire waived midfielder Toni Tchani and defender Kevin Ellis, two players that they traded for earlier in the season.
Weaknesses: While the Red Bulls are good, they aren’t untouchable. There have been significant struggles for the New Yorkers throughout the season and some of those struggles are areas in which Chicago has been successful.
Right Down the Middle: All four of the Red Bull’s most recently conceded goals have come from central positions within the eighteen-yard box. As alluded to above, the center back pairing of Tim Parker and Aaron Long is promising but still a little wet behind the ears. A combination of heading clearances across their own six, mistiming tackles, being out of position on the counter, and mismarking have cost the young duo on those four tallies and if Chicago can get the best out of Nikolic centrally, they are sure to have a few chances in this one.
Prediction: This Red Bull side is simply too good to drop points against opposition like Chicago. The Fire players are emotionally, physically, and mentally drained after Wednesday’s loss and it will show in a serious way on Saturday. New York 5-0 Chicago. Bradley Wright-Phillips notches a hat trick, Royer tallies his ninth of the season, and a Dax McCarty own goal rounds out the match.